Sunday, 30 July 2017

Currently... July

Written in bits and pieces throughout the month of July.

I’m currently sitting outside, yes outside, on this lovely winter’s afternoon, drinking a cup of tea and enjoying the feeling of sunshine on my back. Ella is napping, Andy is at football, and so the house is blissfully calm and quiet. Here is a peak of what we’ve been up to over the last month.

Reading a few books at the moment. I find I can read more than one book at a time if they are non-fiction; I don’t really have a problem flipping back and forth between books on different topics. That said, I do prefer fiction as a means of relaxation or escapism. I love that feeling of being totally engrossed in a book, or looking forward to when I have some time to read. I don’t get that same feeling with non-fiction, even though I find it interesting to learn about new things. This is a big section as I got through more books than usual during our school holidays at the start of the month.

I finally finished Shantaram at the end of June. I really wanted to love this book, but I just didn’t. I found it overly descriptive and therefore unnecessarily long. It took me about six weeks to read and I really wanted it to get better, and there were parts that I did enjoy. But overall… I would have preferred to spend that six weeks reading something else.

I read two other fiction books this month once I’d finally completed Shantaram. The first was I’m Thinking Of Ending Things by Iain Reid, which I randomly picked up from the library. It was good, with a crazy twist at the end that I did not see coming. But it was a complex twist, that probably would be better understood with a second reading of the book. I didn’t like it enough to read it twice though! I also read The Cows by Dawn O’Porter which I devoured in three days. It was like reading all of the best episodes of Sex and the City. There were parts and themes that were super cringy and I didn’t always agree with, but still I found it completely addictive and could not put it down.
The Whole Brain Child by Daniel J Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson is a fantastic collection of parenting techniques based on neuroscience. In reading the book you gain a (simplified) understanding of how the brain works, so that you can help your child successful navigate difficult moments. Some of the techniques are more suited to older children, but one that we have tried quite successfully is called “Name it to Tame it” and is about telling stories to help children calm down after something scary, disappointing, or painful happens. Say something traumatic happens to a child - in Ella’s case this has been limited to a bad fall - while comforting her we say things like “You were running and you tripped. Then you fell down and hurt your knee. That must have hurt. But then mummy picked you up and gave you a cuddle”. It has definitely helped Ella calm down quicker than when we say “Shhhh, it’s ok. Don’t cry”, which is closer to what we used to do.

I also read Better than Before by Gretchen Rubin. I read her first book, The Happiness Project, years ago and found it very relatable and easy to read. This book is similar in terms of readability - the author inserts a lot of personal examples and I find myself nodding along having had similar thoughts or experiences. The book is all about creating and keeping habits, and there were some useful takeaways for me. For example, the beginning of the book talks about how differently people respond to internal and external accountability. It was not only interesting to reflect on how I respond to these things, but to also realise why other people respond differently. Very helpful when considering teams of people I work with, students I teach, and also Andy! The author also talks about “treats” and reframing what we consider a treat. Right now, sitting outside on my balcony writing this post, with a cup of tea, is definitely a treat!

So as you can see, I’m hugely into reading at the moment, and it is definitely one of my favourite “treats” when I have a quiet moment to myself. I’ve even started following Instagrammers who recommend books to see what others are reading. So if you’ve got any recommendations let me know please!

Watching House of Cards season 5. I was a bit disappointed with the first few episodes, they were pretty slow and the plot is simultaneously unbelievable and scarily similar to current US politics. But the series does pick up and it gets as dark and shocking as ever. I just finished it last week so searching for a new series to get stuck in to. Oh and we are obviously watching the new season of Game of Thrones. Obviously.

Andy and I also watched a few documentaries over the school holidays: What the Health and Forks over Knives. Both advocate a plant-based, whole foods diet for optimum health, and tie eating meat and dairy products to higher rates of illness; mainly cancer and heart disease. While I know that research is cherry picked to support this message, it has given us a bit to think about when deciding what to eat. More compelling than the health risks for me are the environmental effects and humanitarian issues around eating large amounts of animal products. So we’ve cut back on the meat, dairy and eggs that we eat at home. I don’t think we are ready (and we may never be) to cut out animal products completely, but it is not difficult for us to eat them minimally. The hardest part for me is cheese, glorious cheese, which I am just not willing to give up right now. And Ella is definitely a carnivore, the girl loves her meat, so I don’t want to remove that from her diet when she is not old enough to choose for herself.

Loving the Yoga Nidra full app. I know I’ve talked about this app before, but I have been using it a lot lately, so just had to share again. Yoga Nidra is a “yogic sleep”, where you are both conscious but in a state of deep relaxation. I came across it through a workshop at my old yoga studio. I left that workshop feeling extremely refreshed and energetic after a terrible night’s sleep with Ella, so I investigated different apps that I could use to practice Yoga Nidra at home. I initially started with the free version, which is a 10 minute sequence. I listen to it almost every night before I go to bed, and almost without fail it sends me off to sleep. This is amazing considering that every since I was young I have had a hard time falling asleep. I then read this article about Yoga Nidra, and how a 20-30 minute session can make you feel as if you’ve had an extra hour or two of sleep. I downloaded the full version (which has 20 and 30 minute sessions, as well as a few extras like nature sounds to play in the background) and it was definitely $5.99 well spent! A few times when I have felt tired in the afternoon I’ve done one of the longer Yoga Nidra sessions instead of taking a nap, and I definitely feel so much better after. I highly recommend it!   

Drinking a lot of Peppermint Tea. The nights are cold and it’s such a cozy drink to have after dinner, once Ella is asleep and Andy and I have time to relax. Due to my recent sore throat and dry, hacking cough, I’ve temporarily replaced this with hot water, lemon and honey. I’ve also tried switching to coffee with almond milk in a bid to consume less animal products. I don’t mind it at home, but a few times I have asked for almond milk in my flat white in a café and have not enjoyed it. So I will probably continue to have almond milk at home, and regular milk when I’m out for now.

Trying to cook healthy, delicious meals for my family during the week. It is hard work! By the time we pick up Ella from work and get home it’s 5pm, and then it’s balancing act of Andy amusing Ella and distracting her from having a snack and me cooking. I’ve been using my day off during the week along with weekends to try and get some meal prep done, so there is less stress the other four days that I’m working. This soup is my favourite quick, healthy meal, I need a few more recipes like this up my sleeve!

Enjoying playing new games with Ella. She loves hide and seek (though she often runs out of her hiding spot while you are looking for her), and also drawing and playing with play doh.

Feeling cold and sick. Hello winter! I shouldn’t complain, we’ve actually had mostly beautiful winter weather so far this year, with bright, sunny, warm afternoons that don’t even require a jacket. But the house is cold at night, and all I can think about is the electricity bill when the heat is running non-stop. I’m also currently sick for the second time this month which has been pretty crappy. (Update: a few days after initially writing this, I’m happy to say that I’m feeling much better and as mentioned above it is decidedly not cold today, so yay, things are looking up!)

Wanting my mom to come back! Life was so much easier when we had some help with Ella.

Considering getting an activity tracker for the first time, like, ever. I primarily want to track my sleep. For the past three weeks I’ve been having terrible sleep, waking in the middle of the night and taking hours to fall back asleep (hence the love for the Yoga Nidra app, but even that has not worked sometimes). I’m sure this lack of sleep has contributed to me getting sick, and it’s also making work seem like a bit of a slog at the moment. I think that one reason I’m not sleeping well could be that I’m not getting as much exercise as usual. Now that Andy works with me, I drive to school with him instead of riding my bike. That is about an hour a day of exercise I’m missing out on. I’ve also only been making it to 1 or 2 yoga classes a week, where I used to aim for three. So it feels like I’m in a bit of a negative cycle: less exercise and less sleep, leading to getting sick, and therefore not feeling like doing exercise and not sleeping well. And repeat. So maybe an activity tracker will help to motivate me? I’m thinking of the Fitbit Charge 2 or the Fitbit Alta.

Writing a job application. My school have decided to overhaul the curriculum structure, making my current position non-existent next year. The proposed changes make a lot of sense, and I agree with them fully, but it does kind of suck to have to reapply for a new position. Especially as my current one has been working well with being part-time, and I’m not sure if I get a new position that I will have the same level of flexibility. I’ve actually considered just stepping down from having a leadership role but I’m not sure if that is what I really want, or if I’ve just been too ill and tired to think straight the past few weeks. There is no guarantee that I will actually get a new position anyway, so I will just try my best, and if unsuccessful I don’t think I will be too upset.   

Wearing a few new sweaters that I’ve treated myself to for winter. I splurged on a cream, wool Country Road number, which I love, love, love. I can’t find it on the website anymore so they must have sold out of them, which makes me happy I bought mine when I did - after thinking about it for weeks. I also love the fit of these Cotton On sweaters, which aren’t warm at all, but perfect autumn/spring, and look really nice on. I have the grey and cream colour, and for $30 could justify a few more colours. (I’ve just seen they are now Buy one, get one 50% off… tempting!)

Wanting these boots from Country Road. I haven’t bought a pair of boots since our first winter in Melbourne, four years ago, so I think I am due a new pair. My other two pairs are both flat, so I like the low heel on these, making them feel a bit dressier. Plus, I complimented a co-workers boots the other day, and she said they were from Country Road five years ago, and they looked almost new. So if I take care of them they should last me a long time.

Grateful for my parents, who are celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary in a week. 40 years! They are truly inspirational.

Pic of the Month Ella with her Aunty Charlotte, drinking a babycino. So glad Ella has people like this in her life!

Saturday, 22 July 2017

School Holiday Highlights Part 2

We've just finished our first week back at work, following three glorious, stress-free weeks hang out in Melbourne together as a family. I wrote about the first two weeks of the school holidays here. Our last week was pretty quiet as we were all a bit under the weather, battling colds at various stages. We spent lots of time in the local area, visiting our favourite playgrounds and cafés. It was nice to just slow down and spend time enjoying our days together. I got to do a lot of reading, listening to podcasts, and yoga, which are basically the ingredients to a perfect day for me. We did manage to go on a few adventurous outings through.

We started the week with a second visit to the Werribee Open Range Zoo. We got there right as it opened, so that we didn't have to wait for the safari bus tour. On our previous visit the week prior it was a 40 minute wait, which we thought was too long for Ella. We met up with one of Andy’s colleagues and his wife and son, who is a few months younger than Ella. The two little ones had a great time chasing each other around the park, checking out the different animals. The safari bus was pretty cool, open air and we saw a range of animals such as giraffes, rhinos and zebras wandering the grounds. It was nice to see them in more of a natural environment and with much more space and freedom than in a regular zoo.

Later in the week we caught up with our friend April at The Boathouse, located in Moonee Ponds along the Maribynong River. April is our first Aussie friend, she was our airbnb host way back when we first moved to Melbourne. I love that we are still friends with her! The Boathouse has a fantastic playground on the lawn with a kiosk selling coffees and small treats (muffins and cookies). It was great to catch up with April. She recently moved into her new house, bought at an auction a few months ago. She talked us through the process of buying a house at an auction, which seems to be the way most houses are sold here. It sounds like a pretty stressful and intimidating process!

Playground at The Boathouse
On Friday Ella had daycare so Andy and I went in to work for the morning. The exciting news around here lately is that Andy got a new job… at my school! We had a Design Technology teacher leave unexpectedly near the end of last term, so it all happened very quickly. Andy’s old school were very supportive and managed to find someone to replace him, and he was able to start at my school on Thursday. I know some people would hate the thought of working with their spouse, but we did it for about three years in London and it was absolutely fine. We work in completely different departments and areas of the school so chances are we won’t see each other during the day unless we plan to meet for lunch. And the nice thing is we get to both drop off and pick up Ella from daycare. I think I will miss riding my bike to school though, as it's such a good way for me to fit in exercise. So I might still choose to ride my bike on occasion so that I don't lose the habit totally.

Our last day of the holidays, we took Ella to the Eltham Miniature Railway. It’s open every Sunday from 11am - 5pm, and for $3 you ride around in a mini train. It was so cool! And as a happy surprise we saw my colleague Michelle, her husband Steve, and their little girl Gemma, who is the same age as Ella. Ella and I stayed with them at their beach house in the Mornington Peninsula during the first week of the school holidays, so Ella and Gemma were very well acquainted and happy to see each other. The train ride was about 15 long and was tons of fun. You ride through scenic bushland, passing other miniature trains on the way. It was definitely $3 well spent.

After the train ride we took advantage of the sausage sizzle and playground, with Ella and Gemma running around happily together. As we were about to leave we spotted pony rides for $5, which we just had to do! I don't know who had more fun: Ella and Gemma on the ponies, or their parents watching them!

All in all we had a pretty great "staycation" here in Melbourne. Usually we are so tired from travelling/jet lag over the school holidays that the week we return to work is torturous. This week was different though, I returned in a very positive frame of mind, feeling refreshed and ready for a new term. I even managed to wake up early on Monday morning to fit in some meditation and yoga… a very productive start to the term if you ask me!

Monday, 10 July 2017

School Holiday Highlights

Andy and I are currently on school holidays, which is obviously the best part of the year for all teachers. Not so much for parents of school aged children, I assume. I’m just starting my third (and final) week off, Andy has had one week less. My school has an extra week of holidays during the winter break; it’s a private school thing. We have enjoyed not travelling for once, spending our time enjoying the crisp, sunny winter days together. Ella has still gone to daycare two days a week, which are luxury “days off” for Andy and I. We’ve got lots of jobs done around the house, and spent time doing things we enjoy: Andy is playing golf right now, and so far today I’ve gone to a yoga class, done a bit of school work, and now I’m sitting in a café writing this blog post on my Mac. I’m pretending I’m some sort of freelance writer doing my work. Ah, what a life that would be! (In my mind... In reality I’d probably hate it!)

During the first week of the holidays while Andy was still at work I took Ella to Rosebud, on the Mornington Peninsula. A colleague/friend of mine, Michelle, has a daughter that is the same age as Ella. We were lucky enough to work and be pregnant together, and then have maternity leave at the same time. We saw a lot of each other with the girls when we were on maternity leave and they were little. Michelle and I still grab coffee together at work almost weekly, but now it's much harder to get together outside of work with our toddlers.

The girls had a great time together, most of the time. Their favourite activity together was “jumping monkeys”: two girls jumping up and down in a port-a-cot and then collapsing in a heap of giggles. Ella also loved playing fetch with their dog, Beau. Being normal two-year-olds, they always wanted whatever the other was playing with, so we had to try to manage sharing and taking turns. Sharing seems like a rubbish idea to a toddler. I mean, why would you want to share the best toy anyway?

We spent a lot of time at playgrounds in and around Rosebud. There is a pretty epic park on the Rosebud foreshore, which I didn’t get any pictures of, but there is a good review of here. We also visited the playground in Rye, located right on the beach, which was immense. Both were pretty quiet as it’s winter, but I’d imagine they get pretty packed in the summertime.

We took a trip up to Arthur’s Seat and watched the new cable cars, which give an amazing view of the Mornington Peninsula. We then stopped for lunch at Epicurean and a play at yet another playground (sensing a theme here?) in Red Hill.

Before we left Ella and I spent some time running along the empty, windy beach in Rye.

Still on my week off without Andy, Ella and I took a trip to the Melbourne Museum. Normally I wouldn’t venture here on school holidays with her, as the Children’s Area can be a bit of a madhouse. But we went in the late afternoon, and the place starts to empty out by about 3pm. Those two hours before the museum closes are the quietest (and therefore the best) time to visit , in my opinion.

The first weekend of holidays for Andy was Ella’s birthday, which I wrote about here.

Last week we took a trip to the Werribee Open Range Zoo which was pretty cool. We all have zoo memberships, which gives you entry to the Melbourne Zoo, Healesville Sanctuary, and Werribee. We have visited the other two but this was our first trip to Werribee. The main attraction is a safari tour in an open bus. The wait for this was about 40 minutes, plus 40 minutes on the tour itself, which we thought was too long for Ella. We are planning a trip back tomorrow with an aim to arrive as the Zoo opens so that we can get on the bus quickly.

There was still plenty to see however. There are four lion cubs with their parents, along with gorillas, wild dogs, meerkats, monkeys and hippos. The landscape and grounds are really well done, and there were lots of areas for Ella to enjoy, such as a playground, sand pit (for finding fossils) and a small indoor play centre. Ella is also equally excited by fake animals (statues and the like) as she is with real live animals. She's pretty easy to amuse at this age.

Another morning, Ella and I met up with one of my mother’s group friends, Trudie, at the Collingwood Children’s Farm in our old neighbourhood. I really miss that area! We had a brilliant day at the farm with Trudie and her son. Ella and him were running around, chasing each other.  It’s so lovely to see her actually playing with other children now.

We’ve got on the bikes a few times with Ella, once just to get some groceries, and a second time to meet Adam and Charlotte in Abbotsford (again to the old ‘hood!). We went to our old favourite Kitchen for brunch, and I had the most delicious Buddha Bowl filled with all the good stuff: Quinoa and pearl barley, roasted pumpkin and mushrooms, charred cauliflower, smashed avo and a poached egg. Delicious and healthy. To drink, I didn’t want another coffee, so I had their Spiced Cacao, which was a rich hot chocolate made with cacao and soy milk, with hints of ginger. It was very warming on a chilly winter day! I’ve already googled how to make something similar on my own, this version looks like it would be pretty yummy.  On the way home Ella fell asleep in her bike seat, which is always pretty funny.

Sunday afternoon Charlotte and Adam invited us over for a yummy roast dinner. Their other friends also came, who have a six-month-old. Ella interacting with the baby was SO CUTE. She was talking to the baby, showing her toys, hugging and patting her. I am gutted I didn’t take any pictures! But it made me really excited that one day in the not too distant future (hopefully - this is not a pregnancy announcement!) she will be a big sister.

Friday, 7 July 2017

Ella Turns Two!

Last weekend we celebrated two years with our gorgeous little Ella. Two years!  

On Friday night the lovely Charlotte came over to help me wrap presents and bake these chocolate cupcakes. We set up her main present, a teepee (furnished with some cushions and this amazing blanket) with the presents inside, ready for when she woke up in the morning. Ella loves finding little spaces just for her (which we sometimes have to squeeze into as well), so I was sure she would love the teepee. I was really looking forward to her reaction when she saw it!

Saturday morning Andy brought Ella upstairs after waking and she gave a little giggle and pointed when she saw her teepee. She wanted to investigate it, and was immediately into opening the presents inside. We only got through a couple at first as she just wanted to play with them. We had given her some pots and pans and cooking utensils to go with her play kitchen.

That morning we went to swimming as usual and then to brunch at Lux Foundry in Brunswick I’ve been wanting to try this place for a while but it always looks super busy. It was a cold but sunny morning, and we managed to get a table outside near a heater. I know I often complain about winter in Melbourne (mainly because the houses are freezing)  but it’s pretty great that you can eat outside nearly all year long!

After brunch we let Ella run around outside, trying to tire her out so she would nap. Mission accomplished: she passed out in the car on the way home. While she napped I made some vanilla buttercream icing for the chocolate cupcakes.

Once Ella woke we headed to Tallboy & Moose, a brewery in Preston that is owned by my friend’s brother. He is Canadian, so the brewery was putting on celebrations for Canada Day (which is the same day as Ella’s birthday). What is great about this place (besides the tasty beer), is it is very family friendly, with a table tennis table, couches and a few toys for the little ones. A couple of our friends met us there, and Charlotte and Adam gave Ella some play doh with cookie cutters for her birthday that kept her busy for ages! I tried their special Canada Day maple flavoured beer which was pretty good, and had a classic Canadian poutine dinner.

All in all it was a great day celebrating two years with our little girl. Here’s an update on what she is like as a two year old:

Things Ella Likes:
  • Singing songs: she can sing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”, “ABCs”, “Baa Baa Black Sheep”, among others. She is also starting to sing along to the radio when we are in the car. Along with singing, she loves a good dance party. We often play music while I’m getting dinner ready, and she’ll come over to me and grab my hands and say “mummy dance”. It does mean making dinner takes a bit longer, but it’s totally worth it.
  • Food: this girl would eat all day if she could. She is a pretty good eater overall. We all eat the same dinner and she will generally eat what we give her, although veggies are more successful when they are cut up small and within some sort of sauce. She does love to munch on raw carrots and zucchini though!
  • Pushing and pulling things around. She loves this little shopping cart my mom bought her (which consequently has to stay in the garage as otherwise she would push it around our house all day).

  • Reading. She now would rather “read” a book herself than us read to her (except for before bed).
  • Her didi, which is her name for her dummy. I have no idea where the name came from. We’ve put rules on when she can have it: in bed, in the car, and in the pram. She knows she is not allowed to have it otherwise, but will now try to negotiate just holding it while she walks around. We’ve allowed this for now. She does try and sneak it in, but a stern “Ella!” will cause her to sheepishly take it out of her mouth.
  • Thomas the Tank Engine. A great distraction for when you are on your own and trying to get dinner ready. We try to limit her screen time, so often the TV is inexplicably “broken”.
  • Swimming, bath time, and water play in general.
  • Counting. She can count to about now, and although she does seem to grasp the concept of counting, she rarely counts correctly. Also we’ve been playing hiding games with her lately and she waits and counts to 10 while we hide. Her maths teacher mummy is very proud!
  • Playgrounds. We spend a lot of our time at the various parks and playgrounds of Brunswick East and Northcote. I’ve said this before, but I’m very impressed with the amount of playgrounds around this city.
  • To say the word “mine” about everything. This is pretty difficult to manage, but normal at this age. A friend sent around this poster from her paediatrician’s office which sums it up:

  • Waving at trains, trams, and the garbage truck. She can hear the garbage truck a mile away!
  • Babycinos. I’ll admit, pre-child I thought these were a bit of a scam, and a bit wanky. But now I think they are pretty much the best invention of the 21st century.
  • Toothpaste. The actual brushing of teeth is pretty minimal, it’s more like she just sucks on her toothbrush and then wants more toothpaste.

Things Ella Dislikes:
  • Stray hairs. She freaks out if she sees a stray hair in the bathroom, especially if it ends up on her hand. I don’t think she can get it off… she just yells “hair! Hair! hair! “ and waves her hand at you until you remove the offending strand.
  • Avocado. She won’t touch it, no matter how much we try to convince her that loving avocado is a prerequisite for living in Melbourne.
  • Giving up something she believe is hers. See “Things Ella Likes” above.
  • Getting dressed. This is a new one for us, and a pain in the butt. It doesn’t happen every day, but some mornings she just does not want to have her nappy changed or get dressed, and fights us on it. Not fun when you are trying to get out the door!
  • Having her hair brushed. That curly mop gets pretty unruly!

It’s actually hard for me to stop this list, I feel like I could keep writing about what Ella is up to forever. She is changing and learning so much every day. I am really loving this age, she is so much fun to play with and have around. We really feel so lucky and blessed to have such a happy and healthy little girl!